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Here are the best underground albums of 2020

Here are the best underground albums of 2020


There are many more musicians out there than the ones on record shelves in big box stores.

As such, there is a great deal of underheard and underappreciated music — and much of it is on Bandcamp.

Founded in 2008, the music company has made it easier than ever for independent musicians to release their music and find an audience.

Artists can simply create an account on Bandcamp, then upload and sell their releases. Recently, the site also debuted a live streaming program where artists can sell tickets to their own virtual shows.

To help musicians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bandcamp waived its revenue shares several times this year during “Bandcamp Fridays.”

The company reports that, since the pandemic began, fans purchased over $75 million in music and merchandise directly from artists and labels.

This is not surprising, given that it was an outstanding year for music.

Below are some of my favorites from 2020, a mostly mellow blend of albums that deserve wider recognition in the areas of ambient, folk, rock, jazz and experimental music.

Golden Brown, “Flora and Fauna of the Uncanny Valley” (self-released)

Tranquil, acid-infused bluegrass that warms the soul like a wood-burning stove. A supreme sense of melody drives Colorado’s Stefan Beck through spirited acoustic numbers and meditative electric guitar works. This was the first Golden Brown release in about eight years, and while I would have thought it was impossible to top Beck’s “High Tide at Gold Beach” from 2012, well, here we are. Link:

Channelers, “Isles Beyond” (Inner Islands)

Oakland, California’s Sean Conrad has released many great albums in various styles, under different aliases. His latest under the Channelers moniker finds him playing various instruments — piano, synths, guitar, dulcimer, mandolin, harmonium. The songs on Conrad’s New Age folk masterpiece are simple, direct and honest, ideal for reflection and contemplation. Link:

Mat Eric Hart, “Spirits & Reflections” (Aural Canyon)

Pastoral acoustic guitar passages emerge from the sounds of a beautiful spring day on this gorgeous debut. Curator of a monthly radio show called “Sonic Tapestries,” Hart recorded the peaceful psychedelic folk album in rural Provence, France. Link:

Tambourinen, “Wooden Flower” (self-released)

Improvised, trance-inducing instrumental rock with the texture of burnt plastic. This is the solo work of Grant Beyschau, of The Myrrors. Beyschau played everything on the four songs, which cover a lot of ground in just under a half-hour. Link:

Don Cherry, “Om Shanti Om” (Black Sweat Records)

In 1976, the jazz and world fusion innovator recorded a rare, improvised performance on TV in Italy. Finally given the archival release treatment on vinyl and CD, the set fits nicely with Cherry’s 1972 album “Organic Music Society.” Vocal chants and exotic percussion solos propel these jam sessions, drawing from African, Asian and Latin musical styles — usually in the same song. Link:

Leo Takami, “Felis Catus & Silence” (Unseen Worlds)

One of the smoothest, most soothing albums of the year came from this Tokyo guitarist and composer. Rich with lithe melodies, “Felis Catus & Silence” reigns supreme at the intersection of jazz, modern classical and ambient music. Link:

Andrea Cortez, “The Secret Song of Plants” (Aural Canyon)

Cortez is a music therapist in Austin, Texas, who plays harp on this album with her plants. That’s right, plants. There are devices which read plant energy and translate it into data which can trigger synthesizers. As fascinating as this is, the reason to book an appointment with this therapist is her exquisite harp sounds. Link:

Matt LaJoie, “Everlasting Spring” (Flower Room)

On “Everlasting Spring,” Portland, Maine’s LaJoie carves out blissful soundscapes with just a guitar, a looper and a reverb pedal. Rock, ambient, New Age or experimental, the Flower Room label has established its own cosmic sound — and “Everlasting Spring” is a great introduction to it. Link:

SiP, “Leos Naturals” (Not Not Fun)

Heady, adventurous and seriously fun synthesizer jazz backed by drum machines, and on occasion, bass clarinet and melodica. Apparently, Chicago organist Jimmy Lacy cultivated his sound during happy hour at a cocktail lounge in Logan Square. Link:

Iasos, “The Next Dimension” (self-released)

Pronounced “ya-sos,” this celestial-minded composer has been crafting otherworldly music since before the term “New Age” was coined. His music has a sense of dynamics unique to New Age and ambient music in general. The biggest surprise and delight of the album is “Ubud Trance Dance,” a electronic jaunt through gamelan — Indonesian music played by percussion ensembles. Link:

Visit throughout the first week of January to see more selections.

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